Local eye surgeon travels to Vietnam on historic medical mission

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It had never happened before: a team of 15 leading U.S. eye specialists traveling to Vietnam, to devote a week to training local eye surgeons in the latest techniques in modern eye care.

Eugene O. Gullingsrud, MD, a leading Minnesota eye surgeon, was among faculty members from across the United States invited to the Imperial City Eye Meeting, held in May in Hue City, Vietnam, to demonstrate his eye surgical techniques. Dr. Gullingsrud was the only ophthalmologist from Minnesota. He is a partner with Edina Eye Physicians and Surgeons, PA and sees new patients for surgical evaluations and routine eye exams.

The Congress Hall of the Century Riverside Hotel in Hue City was packed with 234 eager Vietnamese eye surgeons from Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Hanoi, Danang, and all parts of the country to hear Dr. Gullingsrud and other U.S. eye care leaders. The program featured modern treatment of cataracts and intraocular lens implantation, but also included oculoplastic and reconstructive surgery, retinal surgery, and glaucoma.

Dr. Gullingsrud and his fellow faculty members traveled to Vietnam at their own expense to spend a week donating their time in lectures and laboratory training sessions. “We are really doing this for the patients of our Vietnamese colleagues,” said Gullingsrud. “They are the ones who will benefit from the enhanced skills we impart to their surgeons.”

The Imperial City Eye Meeting was sponsored by the nonprofit Hawaiian Eye Foundation, based in Honolulu. President John M. Corboy, MD, explained that the charitable foundation has been conducting humanitarian eye care missions in the South Pacific for thirty years.

“Recently we expanded our Foundation outreach activities to Asia, teaching eye surgery in Vietnam hospitals on an individualized basis,” said Corboy. “We decided to bring a team of U.S. experts such as Dr. Gullingsrud to amplify the teaching value for a larger audience.”

“We were pleasantly surprised to learn that a majority of the eye surgeons in Vietnam chose to attend our first conference,” said Corboy. “These doctors are really eager to bring their skills up to modern standards, to provide their patients with the best possible visual restoration.”

The Hawaiian Eye Foundation has sponsored the Royal Hawaiian Eye Meeting, the third-largest annual U.S. eye care symposium, since 1976. “Our conference experience for almost three decades allowed us to effectively partner with the Hue Central Hospital, as well as a number of U.S. and Asian equipment, instrument, and pharmaceutical companies, to create the most effective group-learning conditions in lecture hall and eye lab exercises,” Dr. Corboy said.

“We are particularly indebted to Eugene Gullingsrud and other specialists who so generously donate their time, money, and skills to help others,” said Corboy. “Without strong faculty support, we could never have created this historic event. In fact, our Vietnamese colleagues were so delighted that they are already insisting we return for a Second Annual Imperial City Eye Meeting.”

Dr. Gullingsrud had created his PowerPoint presentations months in advance, so that his slides could be translated by a team of Vietnamese medical interpreters. Gullingsrud later provided a DVD of his material to each member of the audience.

In addition to the daily lectures, the Vietnamese eye surgeons were given individualized laboratory instruction on a one-on-one basis by their American colleagues. Operating under powerful microscopes on pigs’ eyes, Dr. Gullingsrud guided trainees through the latest techniques in ultrasonic cataract removal (phacoemulsification), recording their efforts on videotape for later review.

“It was a wonderful experience!” said Gullingsrud. “I’m definitely planning on returning. The doctors really need our help, and their patients are so loving and grateful. In appreciation of our efforts, the local doctors gave us tours of the Citadel, former palace of the Nguyen Emperors, as well as local temples and pagodas. But our tour of the DMZ (de-militarized zone), scene of fierce fighting during the Vietnam War, was the most moving experience for me,” Gullingsrud said.

“When we realized that our team’s efforts will completely change the future of eye care and surgery for an entire country, it is pretty amazing,” said Dr. Gullingsrud. “I’m very humbled and grateful for this opportunity to make such a difference in people’s lives. I can hardly wait to return!”

For further information, or to make a tax-deductible donation to further the Foundation’s charity efforts, please contact Executive Director, Joette Manning at jmail7@msn.com or write to: Hawaiian Eye Foundation, 95-717 Kipapa Dr., #23, Mililani, HI 96789. Dr Gullingsrud can be contacted through www.EdinaEye.com

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